The Lifting

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Summary

Elaine wanted nothing more than to escape her life as a fisherman's daughter. After her mother's death, Elaine was forced into the role as a surrogate mother for her younger sister Lou and the primary caretaker of her family's farm while her father and brothers are out at sea. Just as Elaine begins to believe nothing will free her from her mundane life, a stranger offers Elaine a chance to help her sister and to embark on an adventure of a lifetime. The catch? Elaine must travel into the Lifting, a forest with rumored magic and mythical beasts, where many have dared to enter but failed to return. It's not long after they enter that Elaine's sister mysteriously disappears, and now Elaine must find a way to bring her back without getting herself killed in the process. Elaine soon learns that the Lifting is much more than it seems, and the deeper she travels into the forest, her life is not the only thing at stake.

Genre:
Fantasy / Adventure
Author:
jpharris34
Status:
Complete
Chapters:
11
Rating:
n/a
Age Rating:
16+

The Fisherman's Daughters

Elaine remembered very little about her childhood.

The memories she could remember were faint, a colored haze that hung like a veil in her mind. Memories like smelling her father’s cigar smoke as he read to her by the fire. The sound of her mother’s skirts ruffling in the breeze as they walked through the fields. Many of her memories seemed to blend together, reaching the point where Elaine could no longer tell where one memory began and another ended.

Perhaps it was because her life rarely changed, and every day followed the same routine it had always done. The only variation to her memories was of the changing leaves on the trees that surrounding their cottage, the varying lengths of her sibling’s hair, and the smell of the sea.

There is one memory from her childhood that Elaine will remembers with much clarity. It was the day her younger sister was born, as it was the same day her mother died.

Elaine was sixteen when her mother first fell pregnant. She was not present for the birth, though she had been present for both of her brothers’ many years before. She had even assisted the midwife with her youngest brother’s birth, so when she was barred from the delivery room she knew that something had gone wrong.

She waited with her brothers in the main room of their cottage, listening and waiting by the fire. Elaine remembered how the wind howled that day. It blew so fiercely that it rattled the windowpanes and shook the doors on their hinges. Her brothers believed that they were moments away from the wind lifting their house into the air and being blown into the sea.

When the final hour came and the babe was expected, there was no cry of their sibling as she joined the world. There was only a whisper from her mother as she told the midwife her child’s name, and then she passed.

The midwife held their sister while their father carried their mother out of the room. Elaine never saw her mother again.

When she first held Lou, the first thing Elaine noticed was her peak of white hair with eyebrows to match, and light grey eyes the color of a stormy sea. The midwife commented that she looked almost albino, had it not been for her eyes. Elaine and her siblings, her parents included, sported dark chestnut hair and green eyes. Her father used to joke that their ancestors had once been trees that one day decided to grow a pair of arms and legs, picked up their roots, and decided to become farming people.

To have babe as fair as Lou was certainly uncommon for where they lived. It was rare that anyone in their family would comment on Lou’s looks, though on occasion Elaine’s father would comment and say how some members on their mother’s side were known to be fair. Elaine believed he only said such things to comfort himself.

With their mother gone, many of the house and farm duties fell to Elaine. Her family lived in a small white cottage that sat on an overlook by the sea. Behind their cottage was the meadow that expanded many miles to the east, the forest to the north, and the other villages to the south. The family garden was built directly behind the house, shielding it from the salty ocean wind, near the tool shed that was stood near the trees. Farther from the house were the animal pastures and barn, where their two horses, three cows, five goats, ten chickens and six sheep lived.

With her father being a fisherman and her brothers joining him during his excursions, they left early Spring and returned late Summer every year to comb the sea for fish. This meant that Elaine was alone for many months, with a newborn child and a farm to tend to as well.

Though she never told her father, Elaine had always dreamt about traveling to the Eastern lands across the sea when she turned eighteen. It was her dream since she was young to taste a world she had never known before. However, Elaine knew what happened to girls like her. It happened to her mother, and her grandmother, and all the women in her family line and every other woman that lived along the coast. It’s what made leaving so difficult.

When a girl is born, the first skill she is taught is not how to sew, or how to cook, or how to clean - contrary to popular belief. The first skill a young girl learns is obedience. Obedience to their father, primarily, and one day to their husband. And when the young girl becomes a woman and has a daughter of her own, she will teach her the skill of obedience until the word itself becomes carved into her very bones.

Elaine, like many before her, ached to be free of her past lives. To tread away from the path of her matriarchal ancestors and see castles of glass and gold instead of reading about them in books. To find a love so grand that the universe herself has knitted the fates together so they could find each other. To discover her soul while staring into a pool of stars and wondering what lies beyond the sky itself.

Elaine believed that she could one day leave behind her home and the generational expectations that weighed so heavily upon her. To search the world and find meaning beyond the only life she had known. But when her mother died, Elaine’s hope had died with her.

With her father and brothers gone for half the year, there was no other family to care for Lou. The family did not have enough money to hire help. And so, Elaine became all that she dreaded.

She was left alone with only a young babe to keep her company and silence to comfort her at night. Elaine never particularly minded the silence, however, though she did appreciate good company and the quiet chatter of her brothers as they carved fishing hooks from wood and mended nets on the porch. She even grew to miss the smell of her father’s tobacco, though it always made her cough whenever he smoked it inside the house.

It wasn’t that Lou was poor company, and as she continued to grow, she quickly became the center of Elaine’s life. It was Elaine who was present when Lou first rolled over, began to crawl, and eventually took her first step. Her pale hair grew wild and long, curling at the bottoms and her grey eyes were so vivid with life.

Elaine grew into her new role as the caretaker of the farm and for her sister. Though it was never something that Elaine wanted, she was quite good at it: taking care of others, that is. That’s not to say she held no love for her sister. On the contrary, there was no other person in the world that Elaine loved more. But then there came a time when Elaine began to worry.

Even when Lou was a babe, she did not babble. She never cried, not even when she was born. She would open her mouth as though she were trying to make a sound, but nothing would come from it.

When Lou grew old enough to walk, Elaine noticed that she did not respond when she called out her name and would only look at her if she touched her shoulder. When Elaine spoke to Lou, her eyes wrinkled in confusion and she would never respond, and eventually Elaine would resort to pointing and acting out what she was trying to say.

Their father never drew notice to it, or if he did, he never spoke about it. To be born without a voice or hearing was compared to being born without an arm or a leg. People in the villages would call these people lame, or dumb. Though Elaine knew that her father would never disown a daughter that could not speak or hear, she knew that there was a part of him that was embarrassed, and perhaps a little bit ashamed.

As the sun was beginning to rise over the horizon, Elaine and her sister walked along the shoreline not far from their home. As Elaine walked, she carried a basket full of white clam shells that clattered together as she walked. She watched Lou run down the length of the beach, sprinting in and out of the water as she splashed against the waves. Lou had turned five years old that winter. There were moments like these that Elaine wondered what Lou’s voice would sound like, what her laugh would sound like if life had been different.

She bent down and plucked another clam shell from the wet sand, brushing it off and adding it to her collection. The water glittered from the early morning sunlight, and already Elaine could feel the heat dampening the back of her dress.

Her father and brothers, Joseph and Benjamin, had left almost three months ago, and every day that passed weighed heavily on Elaine’s heart the longer that they were gone. She always missed them when they left for the sea, but this season had been particularly difficult for her.

Elaine and Lou continued down the beach picking up clam shells and whatever else that caught their eye. When the basket grew full, Elaine had to set down the basket so she could run ahead and turn Lou around so they could return home.

The sun was beating down on their shoulders as Elaine dropped the clam shells into a large stone mortar. She handed Lou the pestle and pretended to grind the seashells for her. Lou’s eyes widened in understanding, and she began breaking a part the shells with the pestle, bits of shell flying everywhere.

Elaine set to work on the garden, venturing over to Lou every so often to add water or more shells to the mortar basin. With the family garden, Elaine had planted several rows of beans, squash, carrots, potatoes, lettuce, melon, and tomatoes. Every morning she had to draw water from the well and water each row of plants before they wilted under the hot morning sun. Then she plucked out any weeds she could find while pruning away dead leaves or unnecessary stems. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Lou heading towards her with the mortar basin in hand.

“Thank you, Lou.” Elaine said. She finished with the vegetable garden and took the mortar away from her, setting it on the porch to cook in the sun. They used the paste to cover cracks in the walls and holes in the ceiling, if they were small enough.

Elaine wiped her hands across her apron before reaching for Lou’s dusty hands. She led Lou to the well and cleaned them, and from there they walked together towards the barn. Beyond the barn were the pastures, where the animals were already out grazing.

Elaine had to wake early each morning to let the animals out, leaving the cows for last so she could milk them later. When Elaine and Lou approached, the cows didn’t even lift their heads in welcome, having grown too comfortable with their regular visits. The goats in the nearby pen, however, eyed Lou cautiously before beginning to bleat in warning. She liked to try and milk them like the cows but tended to pull too hard at times.

As they neared the chicken coop, Elaine reached for Lou’s hand. Lou was never a big fan of the chicken coop, preferring to pet the sheep instead. They entered the coop and immediately set to work on lifting the chickens and collecting the eggs that rested beneath them. Lou was accustomed to the work, needing no instruction as she began to collect eggs as well.

Though Elaine never felt any shame towards her sister for not being able to hear or speak, she still wished that she was able to talk to Lou in some way. Even if it meant that Lou couldn’t use her voice. She always wanted to know what Lou was thinking, or how she was feeling. Elaine always worried that Lou wasn’t happy with her on the farm, that some part of her ached to be some place else. Without her words, how could she tell Elaine?

A chicken pecked at Elaine’s arm, almost making her drop an egg. The skin was quick to turn into an angry red splotch. When Lou saw it, her eyes grew large and her mouth opened, but instead of speaking she pointed over Elaine’s shoulder at the chicken in question.

Elaine laughed, nodding her head. “I got nipped, that’s all.” The peck hardly hurt, and to show Lou what she meant, Elaine pulled her arm up to her lips and kissed the red spot gently, showing that she was okay.

In response, Lou kissed the red spot as well, her mouth curving up into a smile as she looked back up at Elaine.

Elaine’s heart felt heavy as she looked down at her sister, returning her smile as she kissed the top of her hair and wiped a smudge of dirt from her cheek. Elaine picked up the egg basket and held out her hand for Lou to take, and they left the coop together.

It was high noon before Elaine returned to the cottage with Lou in tow. She fixed Lou and herself a slice of bread with cheese for lunch and gave Lou an apple for dessert, making a note in her head that she needed to visit the east orchard soon to resupply them with fruit.

They sat on the cottage porch, Lou swinging her legs off the steps while Elaine watched the sea from the rocking chair her father had gifted her a few years ago. He had bought the wood after a particularly good fishing season and crafted the chair by hand, oiling and staining it himself as well. Elaine never missed an opportunity to use it, going as far as to cart it across the meadow so she could keep an eye on Lou while she played in the fields.

“Lou,” Elaine said, then shook her head before standing up. Sometimes she forgot that her sister couldn’t hear her, though she still liked to talk to her all the same. There were times when everything felt as though nothing were wrong, and she would hear her mother in the kitchen preparing supper and smell the smoke from the fire as her father tended to it. Elaine pushed these thoughts out of her head and returned to her reality. It did her no good to dream.

Elaine crouched down in front of Lou, startling her as she jumped backwards on the porch. She smiled at Lou and combed back a piece of her hair behind her ear, watching as Lou took her last bite of her apple before handing the core to Elaine.

Elaine put the apple core in her apron pocket, hoping to remember to deseed it after dinner. She and Lou would sprout the seeds before planting them in the orchard next spring. That way the saplings did not die in the cool winter season.

Elaine pointed to the mortar of shell paste then to the far wall of the cottage, and Lou nodded her head in understanding. Together they set to work on each crack they came across, with Lou using her fingers to scoop the paste and plaster it to the wall and Elaine smoothing it down with a piece of flat wood. They would allow it to set for a few minutes before returning to decorate it with the colorful seashells they had also found on the beach. Elaine believed that they helped hold the crack together longer while also bringing a little bit of color to the cottage’s white walls.

Something wet dripped onto Elaine’s hand, and she looked down to see Lou had covered her in the shell paste. Lou smiled devilishly, her blonde hair curling over her head like a frizzy crown. Elaine responded in kind, stealing a handful of paste out of the bowl before Lou could pull it away, and smeared the paste across Lou’s nose. Lou’s mouth opened in shock as she dropped the bowl and ran, Elaine chasing after her with her hands now covered in the paste.

They ran to the far field by the horse pasture, both Elaine and Lou covered in the sticky white paste. Elaine giggled as Lou tried to catch her breath, both sitting down on a patch of thick grass. Lou was still smiling as she drew a flower on Elaine’s covered cheek.

A rumble rolled across the meadow, the vibrations strong enough to alert Lou to the noise. They both looked out towards the sea, now colored a dark grey, as heavy clouds hung over it.

“A storm is coming in,” Elaine said, mostly to herself. She hadn’t noticed the storm approaching until now.

She looked back down at Lou and gave her a swift kiss on the head before standing, pulling Lou up with her. Elaine pointed back at the cottage and pushed Lou towards it, watching until Lou closed the cottage door behind her before heading towards the horse’s pen. She helped guide the two mares back into the barn, taking care to secure their gates before returning for the cows next.

The animals were always easier to coax back into the barn when a storm was approaching. Elaine believed that the animals must be able to sense the storm in the air, maybe they could even smell it coming. Once the last of the animals were brought back to the barn, Elaine turned back towards the house.

Though it was only mid-afternoon, the sun had already gone from the sky, replaced by the same dark clouds that had once hung over the sea. She could hear the waves crashing against the beach below the cliff and see how rocky the waves looked even far out into the sea. Elaine hoped that her father and brothers were far from this storm, and maybe even sailing under the sun.

When Elaine returned to the cottage, she found Lou sitting in front of the fireplace with her stuffed bear in hand. It used to be Elaine’s when she was a child, but she had since passed it onto Lou. Its once brown fur was now a matted grey, the stitching’s for its eyes were beginning to come loose and Elaine had already had to resew the buttons back onto his chest several times already.

Lou scooted away as Elaine sat down beside her and opened the metal gate to the fireplace. She could feel Lou’s eyes on her as she watched Elaine fill the fireplace with bits of dried-out wood and old cloth before striking a match and setting it aflame. Elaine stayed close to the flames for a few minutes, making sure the flames were strong before heading towards the kitchen.

The cottage itself wasn’t terribly big. There were only two rooms: the kitchen, fireplace, dinner table, and beds for Elaine and her siblings in the main room, and the second bedroom where her father slept. Recently, Elaine had taken to storing extra food in her father’s bedroom to keep the space somewhat tidy, and even let Lou nap there while she cooked and cleaned. Despite its size, it somehow seemed to fit the entire family during the winter months quite comfortably.

As Elaine lit an oil lamp that hung from the kitchen ceiling, the first raindrops splattered against the windows. The fire crackled and heated the room while the storm raged on outside. The force of the wind made the walls of the cottage groan and sometimes tremble from its force, and though Elaine was certain that Lou could feel the house move during those times, she never seemed to be afraid.

Elaine lit a set of candles on the dinner table before settling down on her rocking chair for the evening, which she had thankfully brought inside before the storm hit. She pulled out a basket of wool and began to knit, continuing to make a pair of mittens she was making for her brother Joseph as a birthday present when he returned. His hands were perpetually cold, especially when he was out on the open sea.

Every so often Elaine would lift her eyes and watch Lou play, making sure she never grew too close to the fire. There was a small bookshelf that Ben had made her last winter that served as a mantel, but Elaine used it as a bookshelf more than anything else. Elaine’s mother had been able to read, having come from a family of bookkeepers from some far away village. Her mother had even taught Elaine how to read, and though she had tried to teach her sons, their limited interest in literature brought them limited fluency. Not even Elaine’s father knew how to read.

To Elaine, reading was a pleasant pastime, though in total she only had seven books to read from. Two of which were about edible flowers and herbs that grew on the coastline. The others were about great heroes going on grand adventures, saving lost princesses and battling fierce beasts.

She knew they were only stories, tales to tell children when they couldn’t sleep. They meant more to Elaine, however. Not that she would ever tell this to her father or brothers, who would always tease her whenever they found her with a ratty old book in her hand.

There was a time when Elaine tried to teach Lou how to read, hoping to communicate with her by writing. Elaine soon realized, however, that she learned how to read by sounding words out and by hearing her mother say them to her, and she knew no other way of teaching it.

This didn’t stop Elaine from reading to Lou. Instead of Lou listening to the story, Elaine would take Lou’s hand and place it on her chest, allowing her to feel the vibrations of her voice as she read.

Even if Lou had the ability to hear and speak, Elaine doubted that would have made any difference. Lou didn’t care for reading, or berry-picking, or swimming in the river, or even collecting seashells. All Lou liked to do was stand at the top of a hill, or wherever the wind blew the strongest, and would lift her arms high as though she were about to take flight. Even when Lou wasn’t standing at the top of a hill, the wind seemed to follow wherever she went. Softly blowing through her dirty tendrils of blonde hair.

Lou placed a hand over Elaine’s, startling her as she remembered where she was. Lou pointed to her stomach, telling Elaine that she was hungry. Elaine gave her a weak smile and nodded before heading for the kitchen to start on dinner. Lou had always been a particularly hungry child, but as she continued to grow her hunger only seemed to increase. After having two younger brothers, however, Elaine was used to the constant questions about food.

Elaine pulled out the kitchen pot and dragged it over to the fireplace, her arms nearly popping out of her shoulders as she lifted the pot onto the hook inside the fireplace. Wiping the sweat from her brow, Elaine began adding several buckets of water into the pot, waiting for it to boil before adding in the potatoes, carrots, and their last chunks of salted pork.

Elaine frowned as she watched the pork boil next to the other vegetables. She and Lou would have to go into one of the village markets tomorrow and try to trade for more meat. Though traveling to the nearby village was always something new and exciting for her to do, she wasn’t sure if any of the farmers would want to trade for anymore of her stitched table clothes or knitted hats. She could try and use the leftover shell paste Lou had made, but many of the families already make their own.

When Elaine’s father and brothers were home, they would simply trade fish and crab for whatever they needed. Once the fishing season began, and Elaine found herself alone, she began trading away all the fish they had stored over the winter to care for Lou and herself.

Elaine hovered over the fire, watching as the soup’s vapors twisted into the air around her, but the aroma wasn’t quite what she was looking for. She reached up and pulled at a bundle of rosemary and thyme that were tied to the ceiling above her and chucked it into the pot.

Elaine left the pot to boil while she paced around the room. She brought her thumb up to her mouth and bit gently down on her nail; something she always did whenever she was thinking too hard about something.

She turned to her father’s bedroom door, her eyes glancing over at Lou, who was still playing with her bear by the fireplace, then opened the bedroom door and peered inside.

The room was covered in a thin layer of dust, the humid air filtering past Elaine and towards the heat of the fire. She knelt next to the bed and lifted the comforter, revealing a wooden trunk stored away beneath it. Elaine grabbed the handles on either side of it and tugged, pulling it out of her father’s bedroom and dragging it towards the fireplace.

Lou lifted her head, feeling the wood floor vibrate as her sister dropped the trunk near their beds across the room. She moved towards her sister, abandoning her bear by the fire as she watched Elaine open the trunk.

Elaine pulled out her older pieces of cloth that she had knitted several months prior, along with a few new pieces she had recently made as well. One was a handkerchief with a tiny sailboat sewn into one corner and a whale on another, an idea that was inspired by one of the seven books on the mantel. She always stored her sewing pieces she intended to trade in father’s trunk for safe keeping. This was mostly because she knew none of her siblings would get into it, even by accident. But it was also an excuse to look at her mother’s old things.

Elaine’s fingers drifted across her mother’s ornate jewelry box. It was made of metal and was easily the most expensive thing that her family owned. There were tiny metal animals attached to the box, frozen in a wild scene where they all battled each other, their fangs and claws extended. Elaine had never seen any of those animals herself, but her mother had told her the names of them when she had been very young.

“Lion,” Elaine said, pointing to the animal on the box for Lou to see. Lou squinted her eyes, looking from Elaine’s lips and back to the tiny animal on the box, then turned and pointed out the window where the barn was in the distance.

“No,” Elaine said, laughing as she shook her head. “we don’t have those in our barn. They would eat everything up.” She pointed to another animal, the edge of her nail tracing the animal’s ears and trunk. “Elephant.” She said, showing it to Lou again.

She flipped to the other side of the box, a flash of silver hanging from one of the painted trees caught her eye.

“Monkey,” Elaine said. Lou outlined the shape of it with her finger, then flung open the lid to the box without warning.

“Be careful!” Elaine said, pulling the box closer to her chest. Lou looked down into her lap and turned away, knowing that she had made her sister upset but had no clue why. It was one of the hardest things Elaine experienced with Lou; whenever she pulled Lou away from the edge of a cliff, pushed her away from their mare’s swinging hind legs, anything that was done in an effort to protect her sister, Lou could only see it as her being in trouble. Elaine could not explain to her sister that her discipline came from love, and this made her heart grow tight inside her chest.

“Here,” Elaine said, her voice softening. She pulled Lou closer, covering her hand with her own as they reopened the box together.

Inside was a pearl necklace, with each pearl fished out of the sea by their father. Their mother’s wedding ring, a broach with a blue stone, and a hair pin with a glittering red gem perched on the end of it. They were heirlooms that their mother had inherited from her family, who had kept them for generations. It wasn’t all that much, but Elaine knew that no other family on the coast had so many jewels in their possession.

Elaine pulled out the hair pin with the red stone, biting her lower lip. She knew a wealthier woman who lived a day’s ride from their cottage, and she wouldn’t hesitate to buy the hair pin from Elaine. It might fetch them several months’ worth of salted pork and maybe even more if she managed the money well enough.

Elaine sighed, then dropped the hair pin back into the jewelry box and closed it, returning it to the trunk where it belonged. She and Lou were far from starving and trading her mother’s hair pin for something they didn’t need would be shameful. Elaine didn’t even want to imagine her father’s face if he found out what she had done.

Instead, she picked up her pile of sewing cloths and set them on the table. If Elaine couldn’t get anyone to buy her work tomorrow at the market, then she and Lou would go a few months without pork. They could eat more eggs, and maybe Elaine could try her hand at fishing in one of the nearby ponds. Though ironically, she was never very lucky at catching anything.

She moved the trunk back under her father’s bed before returning to the pot on the fire, stirring its contents before trying a sip. The mixture had turned to a rich and hearty brown while she was away, the potatoes soaking up the extra water and making it thicker than when she had left it.

She gave an approving nod as the savory flavors danced across her tongue and scooped up another spoonful and let it cool before giving it to Lou to try. Elaine watched as Lou smacked her lips and made a face, then pointed to the stalk of garlic that stood above their heads.

“Garlic?” Elaine said, shaking her head. “Of course it needs garlic. How could I have forgotten the garlic?”

Elaine stood on her toes and ripped off a bulb. Peeling away the dry outer skins, she roughly chopped it into chunks before tossing it into the pot. The difference was almost immediate, as the soup released a mouth-watering aroma that spread throughout the cottage. The smell of tender meat and potatoes seemed to cling to their clothes and hung off the walls, making both of the sisters’ stomachs rumble.

Elaine turned to the kitchen and pulled two bowls out of the cabinet, placing them on the table before reaching for the loaf of bread she had made yesterday morning. It was already beginning to grow stale, but the soup would do enough to soften it.

The soup bubbled as Elaine scooped it into each of their bowls, the bread already beginning to soften from the steam that surrounded it. Elaine led Lou to the table, helping her onto her seat that was just a few inches too tall for her to climb into, and set down her bowl for her to eat.

Elaine ate her bowl quietly, watching as Lou devoured hers within a matter of minutes and patted Elaine’s hand as her way of asking for more.

“Hungry little monster, aren’t you?” Elaine said, smiling. Lou couldn’t hear what she had said but nodded all the same. It made Elaine laugh as she took Lou’s bowl and scooped another spoonful into it.

“We need to go to the market tomorrow morning.” Elaine said, setting Lou’s refilled bowl onto the table as she sat down. “Hopefully we can get a pound of salted pork. It should be enough to last us until papa gets home. Maybe we can even get you some new fabric for dresses, since you’ve already destroyed the one’s I’ve made you.” Elaine tugged on the ripped fabric on Lou’s shoulder, making her look up at her for the first time since Elaine had began to talk.

Elaine picked up one of the handkerchiefs for Lou to see, then pointed outside where the rain continued to beat steadily on the windows. Recognition lightened Lou’s eyes. She knew that Elaine’s special fabrics were only brought out when they made trips to the market. Lou nodded her head excitedly, her spoon splashing soup onto the table and floor. Elaine understood Lou’s excitement far too well; the more she thought about doing a day trip to the market, the more restless she became. She had gone too long without adventuring past her family’s property lines, and she was desperate for a change of scenery.

Elaine laughed, “Looks like you like that idea, too. When we get back, I need to do laundry, and maybe give you a bath. You’re starting to smell like one of the barn animals.”

Lou had turned her attention back to her soup, however, and was no longer paying attention. The sisters finished the rest of their meals in silence, with Elaine listening to the rain pattering against the roof.

When Lou finished her bowl, Elaine took it from her and set it in the basin in the kitchen for her to clean later. While Elaine tidied up the kitchen, Lou resumed her position by the fire with her bear. Elaine could see Lou’s eyes beginning to droop downward and set down her wash rag when she caught Lou yawning.

“Alright,” she said, “time for bed.”

Elaine picked her up, carrying her to her bed that was pressed against the corner of the room closest to the fireplace. Lou swung her legs as she sat on her bedside while Elaine pulled out the clothing trunk from under Lou’s bed, finding her night gown and helping her get into it.

Drawing the blankets up to her shoulders and kissing the top of Lou’s head, Elaine bid her sister goodnight and returned to her spot in the kitchen to resume her cleaning. It was hardly a moment later until she could hear Lou’s soft snores coming from the corner of the room.

Elaine hummed quietly to herself as she finished her chores. After wiping down the table and sweeping the floors, she cleaned their dinner bowls and set them on the table to dry.

She changed into her own nightgown and dimmed the oil lamp in the kitchen and blew out the candles on the table, closing the metal gate in the fireplace before retiring to her own bed next to Lou’s.

As the fire light slowly faded, Elaine thought of the song her mother used to sing to her to help her sleep. So many years had passed, and now all Elaine could remember was the melody. She turned over onto her side and closed her eyes. While she tried to recall the words to her mother’s lullaby, she drifted into an easy sleep.

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